Archive for the 'Esotericism' Category

Feb 13 2014


I’ve recently come to terms with the fact that -in for a penny, in for a pound- I’ll probably never stop searching for meaning, for answers, for gnosis, and for ways to find them.

When I was an undergrad, and active in theater, I wound up writing an extensive paper on Jean Genet, focusing on his plays: The MaidsDeathwatchThe BalconyThe Blacks, and The Screens.  At the time, most of the authors I was reading could be summed up as “any combination of gay, criminal, and/or an addict” (Burroughs, Genet, and Charriere were all in heavy rotation, as well as others I’ve since forgotten about). I haven’t read Genet since the late 80s, but have recently reacquired a good chunk of his work. I’ll probably revisit him at some point in the future (currently reading Melmoth the Wanderer by Maturin, and loving it). My final paper on Genet for my second semester of History of the Theater was probably about 15-20 pages about Genet’s idea of “Theater as Ritual” which is an idea that resurfaced for me towards the end of my time in grad school.

Namely, in terms of Antero Alli’s ParaTheatrical Research.

I haven’t worked with Alli (though if I could go back in time, I would have considered this as a possible portion of my grad-school studies), but I’ve gotten to know him a little bit via Facebook. Interesting fellow. You really should check him and his work out.

In any event, I’m not writing about Alli, or Genet here, ultimately, but rather the quest – the need to touch that-which-cannot-be-named, to understand. One of my favorite quotes from Lon Milo DuQuette in The Magick of Thelema (1993) sums it up for me:

“The Magician does not necessarily want the burden of existence lifted from his shoulders; he wants to understand why he is carrying it and where.”

In fact, I used that quote as the opening salvo of my personal statement in grad school.

For a while, as I’ve written throughout this site, I was very interested in Crowley, the O.T.O., Thelema, variations on T.O.P.Y.,  and Chaos Magick.

These days, I find my interests to be much quieter.

One stream that I’ve become very interested is the traditional practices of my ancestors. My great-great maternal grandfather, Albert Hunter, was a Pennsylvania Dutch Pow-wow practitioner. I’ve also been quietly looking into Rune systems as well, and become interested in plant lore, and still have an immense love and respect for dreams and dreaming.

All of this, while working a 9-5 (okay, 8:30-4:30) job, and raising a two year old son.

In fact, part of the reason I’ve become interested in these traditions (and, honestly, I’d say they’re supplemental to my interests in “higher” magick, rather than replacing them), is to pass these traditions on to him. The day will come when he asks us “Mom, Dad, what do we believe?” and I want to have an answer for him.

A little while back, a group entered my awareness. I know none of the players involved, and the literature is prohibitively expensive. On the surface, however, their interests seem to be along the lines of where my own are right now. I have no idea how to make contact, or if I even want to make contact. My experiences with groups tend to inevitably end in disappointment.

That said, I hereby affirm my intention to at least read what literature of theirs that I can come by (and, let’s be honest, when your major texts are going for thousands of dollars on the secondary market, there are .PDFs to be had until other printings surface), and determine whether it continues to appear to be a good match.

One sign, I suppose, was that upon contemplating them last night, I was reminded of The Xenis Emputae Travelling Band. Last night, I loaded their discography onto my iPad, to listen to at work today. This morning, I found that Phil Legard (the main force behind XETB), posted a piece yesterday about a quasi-mystical horseman’s guild from the 19th century (fascinating reading, actually), specifically remarking about the use of a magickal “toad bone” to control the horses.

He provides references to a few works about the toad bone, including pieces by Andrew Chumbley.

Sometimes the universe winks back at you.

I should clarify that I would not call my current interests “Wicca” – I have no use for Gardner, nor his school.

Ultimately, I believe, we all need to find our own ways – our own paths, but they can and should be rooted in those of our ancestors.

If my son rejects all of this, I am totally fine with that.

If, however, he has an interest, then I want to be able to be the best resource and facilitator I can be.

But in the end, this is for me.

It is what I need to do.

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Sep 21 2013

Reflections on Death In June – Friday the 13th, San Francisco

(submitted to and published by The Listserve – this is the annotated version with one correction)

At what point do you become that which you are trying to eradicate?

stageThis past weekend (9/13), I attended a show by the controversial band Death In June. Douglas Pearce (the sole continuous member) has been accused of being a racist, a Nazi, a fascist, and worse. The fact that he is openly gay, has collaborated with a number of Jewish musicians, and has played sold out shows in Israel is beside the point. I have listened to his music for years. I consider myself on the left end of the political spectrum.  I’ve read any number of interviews and clarifications that Pearce has made about his views. I have a graduate degree in philosophy. I have participated in a number of civil rights demonstrations across the country. I can safely say that I find nothing fascist or hateful about him or his music. This is my conclusion. I stand by it.

Others only look at surface images of the band, and project their worst fears onto it. Those are their conclusions.  I have listened to their arguments, and read their cases. I remain unconvinced.

The show I attended was protested by a group identifying themselves as anti-fascists. They have a right to do this.  I respect this.

Rather than engaging us in dialogue, however, they became violent – openly harassing (an ethnically diverse!) group of people waiting politely in line for the show.  There were fists involved. They tried to storm the venue. It was their assumption that we were all waiting to attend the next Nuremberg rally, and that we were Nazis who needed to be stopped.

The anti-fascists wound up physically harming a number of minority members of the audience.  Additionally, they had vandalized the club where DIJ played the night before, and succeeded in threatening another venue to the point of cancelling a sold out show (which has since been relocated).


In 1920s-1930s Germany, the Nazi Party deployed a group known as the Sturmabteilung, or “brown shirts” to disrupt, threaten, intimidate, and physically harm political opponents.  How, qualitatively, were the actions of the anti-fascists different from the tactics of the Sturmabteilung? Tactics aside, how is it anti-fascist to declare yourselves the gatekeepers of what people can, cannot, should, and should not listen to?

In their quest for a villain, they became the villains. Rather than seeking common ground (of which, I suspect, there may have actually been much between them and the audience), they demonized us.

Additionally, they denied our humanity in an even more fundamentally important way –they denied us the choice, the chance to make up our own minds about what we were seeing and hearing. They failed to recognize our own abilities – our own rights – to recognize good and evil.

Walt Kelly, the creator of the comic-strip POGO, wrote in 1953, regarding the McCarthy hearings:

Traces of nobility, gentleness and courage persist in all people, do what we will to stamp out the trend. So, too, do those characteristics which are ugly…There is no need to sally forth, for it remains true that those things which make us human are, curiously enough, always close at hand. Resolve then, that on this very ground, with small flags waving and tinny blasts on tiny trumpets, we shall meet the enemy, and not only may he be ours, he may be us.

In Jungian psychology, there is a term for this – “owning one’s shadow.” I hope that someday, the 8 protesters (not 20, as they claim) look into this, and find resolution.

Then, perhaps, we can all move forward and fight real evil – together.

Oh yeah.  The show?  Simply amazing.




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Aug 05 2013

Meditations on Sol Niger, part IV

‘I can see in the dark,’ boasted Nasrudin one day in the teahouse.

‘If that is so, why do we sometimes see you carrying a light through the streets?’

‘Only to prevent other people from colliding with me.’  – as told by Idries Shah

In his book Sacred Drift: Essays on the Margins of Islam (1993), Peter Lamborn Wilson (yes, I’m aware of his proclivities) discusses the darkness and “black light” in the writings of the 12th Century shaykh Ayn al-Qozat, who equated it with the tragic figure of Iblis (aka “Eblis”) – the angel who disobeyed God out of love for God, refusing to bow before Adam. An interesting parallel in Christianity is the figure of Lucifer, whose name means “light bearer.” Lucifer is now considered one of the names for “the Prince of Darkness.” Al-Qozat explains that

in love there must be both rejection and acceptance, so that the lover may become mature through the grace and wrath of the beloved; if not he remains immature and unproductive. Not everyone can fathom that both Eblis and Mohammad claim to be guides on the path. Eblis guides one away from God, while Mohammad guides one towards God. God appointed Eblis the gatekeeper of his court, saying to him, ‘my lover, because of the jealousy-in-love that you have for me, do not let strangers approach me’ (as quoted in Wilson, p. 90).

Wilson illustrates this in terms of لآ اِلَهَ اِلّا اللّهُ, (la ilaha illa’Llah), describing how “the unworthy will never reach beyond mere negation, the la (no), or attain the inner sanctum of illa’Lah. The guardian or chamberlain of this inner realm is none other than Iblis (p. 90).” Al-Qozat elaborates on the role of Iblis.

Has the black light above the Throne [of God] not been explained to you? It is the light of Eblis…compared with the Divine Light it is darkness, but it is light just the same…hear the word of God! ‘Praise be to God, who has created the heavens and the earth, and has established darkness and light [VI:I]’ How can black be complete without white or white without black be complete? It cannot be so. The Divine Wisdom has so ordained (as quoted in Wilson, p. 91).

In keeping with our alchemical theme of “as above, so below,” Aziz ad-Din Nasafi (a student of Ibn ‘Arabi’s) retells the story of Iblis in terms of the microcosm within each of us.

God delegated his viceregent to represent him in the microcosm, this divine viceregent being ‘intellect.’ When the ‘intellect’ had taken up the viceregency in this microcosm, all the angels of the microcosm prostrated before it, except ‘imagination,’ which did not, refusing to bow, just as when Adam assumed the viceregency in the macrocosm, all the angels prostrated to him except Iblis, who did not (as quoted in Wilson, p. 93).

The importance and power of associating Iblis, “the black light” with imagination cannot be overemphasized. As Wilson explains,

Imagination…both dissipates and concentrates the faculty of remembrance, and seduces both to ‘sin and rebellion’ and to the vision of the divine-in-things. According to Ibn ‘Arabi himself, without images there can be no spiritual realization at all, for the undiffferentiated oneness of the Real can be experienced only through its manifestation as (or in) the multiplicity of creation (p. 94).

Islamic scholar Henry Corbin (1994) tells us that “‘the black light’ is that of the attribute of Majesty which sets the mystic’s being on fire; it is not contemplated; it attacks, invades, annihilates, then annihilates annihilation (p. 108).”

nightsunOn the night of May 28, 2006, I had an experience that I still do not understand. In the middle of the night, while asleep, I suddenly went lucid. Being an active dreamer, this was not troubling in itself, however for what I became aware of in my lucidity, I have no ready explanation.

I found myself hurtling towards a massive (and I mean massive) light, as if being pulled by an intense gravitational force. This was not a free-fall sensation, so much as being drawn towards the light. I felt no fear, but I also knew that this was not the proper time for me to be dealing with this phenomenon. The light was getting closer, surrounding, and penetrating me. I could feel my entire physical body vibrating, almost shaking. I somehow managed to pull myself awake, asserting rather strongly (and with great difficulty) “I…am…HERE” (my bed). I awoke, but still felt myself being pulled out of the back of my body. I closed my eyes again, felt the vibrations return, and found myself once more heading towards, becoming enveloped in, and penetrated by the light. Though the light was white, it possessed what I could detect to be an inner darkness. The only way I can describe this is through a rather weak synaesthetic analogy. A White Russian may look like a glass of milk, but contains tastes (Kahlua, vodka) hidden within it. An unsuspecting person may lift the glass to their mouth, expecting to taste only milk. They would be surprised by the taste of alcohol. In the same way, there was a core of blackness to the white light I was engaging. In some respects, it reminded me of the way sunlight appears during an eclipse (an important image  I will return to towards the end of this series). I managed to pull myself awake a second time, this time sitting up in bed for a while. Eventually I lay back down again, and entered into some kind of dialogue(?)/agreement(?) with the light, and the rest of my sleep was undisturbed.

I cannot comfortably say if this was all a dream, the onset of an out-of-body experience, a near-death experience, a seizure, or something else entirely (I’ve experienced sleep paralysis, and this wasn’t it). I simply do not know.

In an attempt to understand what happened to me that night, I turned again to Henry Corbin (1994).

The ‘black light’ is that of the divine Ipseity [“self”] as the light of revelation, which makes one see. Precisely what makes one see, that is to say, light as absolute subject can in nowise become a visible object. It is in this sense that the Light of of lights (nūr al-anwār), that by which all visible lights are made visible, is both light and darkness, that is visible because it brings about vision, but in itself is invisible (p. 102).

Black Light serves another purpose, for Corbin, echoing the words of Ayn al-Qozat and Aziz ad-Din Nasafi, he states:

The darkness above…in mystical terms…corresponds to the light of the divine Self in-itself (nūr-e dhāt), the black light of the Deus absconditus, the hidden Treasure that aspires to reveal itself, ‘to create perception in order to reveal to itself the object of its perception,’ and which thus can only manifest itself by veiling itself in the object state. This divine darkness does not refer to the lower darkness, that of the black body, the infraconsciousness (nafs ammāra), but to the black Heavens, the black Light in which the ipseity of the Deus absconditus is pre-sensed by the superconsciousness (pp. 100-101).

I want note that for Corbin, the “black body” in this quote would be physical matter, which absorbs light, only to reflect it. For instance, a red object isn’t actually, technically “red,” per physics. It absorbs all light, yet reflects light in the red bandwidth. Corbin talks about this further in terms of Najm Kobrā and Suhrawardi, stating that this is akin to the “fire of dhikr,” causing the “re-emission” of light. Wilson would equate this absorption into the darkness followed by re-emission as the crossing of the threshold guarded by Iblis, moving from “la” to “illa ‘Lah

In terms of Corbin’s description of the “Light of lights (nūr al-anwār), that by which all visible lights are made visible, is both light and darkness, that is, visible because it brings about vision, but in itself invisible,” we have seen this in terms of imagination, Iblis, and a form of the Divine Self. As above, so below, it can be all of these things. But now that we have pushed into the far reaches of abstraction, let us bring the discussion to realms a little more “this-worldly” (though not entirely). In the next post, I will discuss Corbin’s description of nūr al-anwār“visible because it brings about vision, but in itself invisible” in terms of an example that is perhaps easier to grasp from within our own paradigm; an example that is widely accepted, if not entirely accepted – the Near-Death Experience. Death and Re-birth. As above, so below.


Corbin, Henry. (1994). The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism. New Lebanon, New York: Omega Publishing.

Wilson, Peter Lamborn. (1993). Sacred Drift: Essays on the Margins of Islam. San Francisco: City Lights Books.

(to be continued)

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Aug 02 2013

Meditations on Sol Niger, part III

‘Mr. Makepeace, do you really turn lead into gold?’

‘No, of course not. No one can do that. But if people think you’re foolish enough to try, they don’t bother to look at what you’re really doing. They leave you in peace.’

– Philip Pullman, Lyra’s Oxford

blacksunStanton Marlan, in Part I of this series, is quoted as calling the Black Sun a “paradox.” I have found it to be an elusive and enigmatic symbol. Indeed, I have found very little written on the image proper. Most sources will mention it, and then segue into a discussion of its properties, or more often, the alchemical processes associated with it – mortificatio, nigredo,, “blackening.”

In alchemy, nigredo, or “blackening” is a beginning stage in the alchemical opus. From nigredo, we move to albedo (“whitening”), and finally to rubedo (“reddening”). An interesting exercise is to look for alchemical processes in unlikely places, such as pop culture, or lowbrow humor. I can’t help but wonder at the alchemical possibilities of the old “What’s black and white and red all over?” jokes we used to tell as children. Sadly, the punchlines are about as cryptic as alchemical manuscripts (“a penguin with diaper rash,” “a panda with sunburn,” or “a nun with a bloody nose,” to name but a few) and don’t easily surrender their secrets!

The idea behind nigredo is that the old substance must die, in order to be reborn (first, purified via albedo, and then coming into its own in rubedo). This dying process is the mortificatio. Titus Burckhardt, in his book Alchemy (1997), describes the process as follows:

At the beginning of every spiritual realization stands death, in the form of ‘dying to the world.’ Consciousness must be withdrawn from the senses and turned inward. As the ‘inner light’ has not yet risen, this turning away from the outward world is experienced as a nox profunda (p. 186).

Lest this not sound intense enough, Jungian psychologist Edward Edinger (1994) reminds us that

Mortificatio is the most negative operation in alchemy. It has to do with darkness, defeat, torture, mutilation, death, and rotting. However these dark images often lead over to highly positive ones – growth, resurrection, rebirth – but the hallmark of the mortificatio is the color black (p.148).

Coupled with the mortificatio is the putrefactio, the rotting of the dead body.

Feces, excrement, and bad odors refer to the putrefactio. The common dreams of neglected or overflowing toilets which plague puritan minded people belong to this symbolism. Odor sepulcorum (the stench of the graves) is another synonym for putrefatio…worms accompany putrefaction…(p. 157).

Given this abundance of less-than-cheerful imagery, one is led to wonder why one would wish to embrace this process. Edinger righly points out that “one rarely chooses such an experience” (p. 172).

Yet from the darkness, comes light. In fact, as we will find out alter on, one cannot actually see light, except within the context of darkness. In addition, from death (literal or figurative) comes life. As a physical organic body decomposes, it feeds and nourishes all manner of life, from bacteria, to the aforementioned worms, to predators. The “fertilizer” we put in our gardens is simply a euphemism for shit and decaying matter.

At this point in the imagined dialogue, my friends might begrudgingly concede that I have a point, and after this quick glance into the darkness, return to the light once more.  After all, solar consciousness is very attractive. Things have never been accused of going “bump” in the day.

But let us return to the darkness, utilizing “lunar” consciousness to go gently into that good night, to see a number of points of view. I agree with Stanton Marlan when he says

…alchemical texts have traditionally spoken of [the] renewal as a transition from the blackness of the nigredo to the whiteness of the albedo, but I believe we have to be careful not to interpret this white outcome of the alchemical process in terms of literal color since there is a tendency in modern culture to see white and black as opposites. The whiteness of the albedo is simultaneously a developmental step in a series of alchemical processes and the illuminating quality intrinsic in the blackness of the nigredo process. The whiteness that the alchemists speak of is not a whiteness separate from blackness. On the contrary, to understand the ‘renewal’ that ‘follows’ the nigredo, one must go beyond simple dichotomies and see into the complexity of the blackness itself (2005, p. 99).

Edinger places the blackness as relative to the shadow in Jungian psychology. “The blackness, when it is not the original condition is brought about by the slaying of something” (1994, p. 150). I think this is accurate to a degree, but only part of a much larger picture. Nigredo is a process. One could argue that shadow parts of ourselves are created when we selectively “kill” potential aspects of ourselves in favor of other potentials. Yet to restrict our interpretation of the darkness to shadow is to severely inhibit ourselves, and our understanding of the Black Sun. As Marlan states,

…darkness historically has not been treated hospitably and…has remained in the unconscious and become a metaphor for it. It has been seen primarily in its negative aspect and as a secondary phenomenon, itself constituting a shadow – something to integrate, to move through and beyond. In so doing, it’s intrinsic importance is often passed over. This attitude has also been perpetuated in alchemy, which places darkness at the beginning of the work and sees it primarily in terms of the nigredo. Yet in its usage of the black sun there is a hint of a darkness that shines (p. 12).

We need to follow the dark light of the Black Sun through all of the fractal layers of the holographic reality to truly appreciate its power. Psychological alchemy may play an important part in the process of individuation, yet if alchemy is truly “above” as well as ‘below,” then there is a larger spiritual component as well. While alchemical processes can be found in just about every spiritual system, in the next installment of this series, I would like to turn to Sufism (as a matter of personal bias) to explore these ideas further.


Burckhardt, Titus. (1997). Alchemy: Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul. Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae.

Edinger, Edward F. (1994). Anatomy of the Psyche: Alchemical Symbolism in Psychotherapy. Chicago: Open Court.

Marlan, Stanton. (2005). The Black Sun: The Alchemy and Art of Darkness. College Station: Texas A&M University Press.

(to be continued)

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Jul 15 2013

Meditations on Sol Niger, part II

“And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as a sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood;” – Revelation 6:12

Before we plunge into the darkness, it might be best to lay some groundwork, and mention a few key concepts, and how I will be approaching them. Some of this will seem wildly off-topic at first, but will eventually coagulate (to borrow a term), into what I hope will illustrate how I am approaching the Black Sun, and why I am approaching it the way I am.

First, we must begin with the alchemical dictum, “as above, so below.” Hermes Trismegistus tells us in the Emerald Tablet that “what is below is like that which is above, and what is above is like that which is below, to accomplish the miracles of the One Thing.” At first glance, this statement would appear rather simple. Yet, upon contemplation, one quickly begins to appreciate the statement’s finer complexities. It is unfortunate, for instance, that linguistic restrictions and conventions lock us into the directionality of only “above” and “below.” It becomes habit to equate “above” with “good” and “below” with “bad,” or at least, “not as good.” This is not helped by reading the Latin version of the Tablet, which uses “superius” for “above” and “inferius” for “below” (Edinger, 1994, p. 231).

One could attempt to interpret “as above, so below” holarchically, mapping it to a Wilber-style AQAL model, but I am not entirely convinced this would be sufficient. Despite Wilber’s best intentions, there is still qualification of some levels being more desirable than others by many people I have met in the Integral community. How Wilber and Integral Theory distorts and confuses “evolution” with “entelechy” is a conversation for elsewhere.

As I perceive it, “as above, so below” speaks to a fractal pattern, or perhaps more appropriately, a holographic model of reality.


The “Black Sun” of the Mandelbrot Set duplicates itself through “all” layers of reality, in many directions. Each pattern resonates all the way “down” as well as all the way “up.” As Above, so Below.


I will avoid a lengthy discussion of the holographic model of the universe (Bohm and Pribram) here, but do want to touch on a few key points. First, a hologram is created by interference patterns of light. These interference patterns are similar to what occurs when the ripples from two stones dropped into the same pond collide with each other.

Interference patterns such as these need not be generated only by light. Hans Jenny has done some incredible research into the construction of coherent form using sound waves. His work can be found by doing a simple web search for "Cymatics"

Interference patterns such as these need not be generated only by light. Hans Jenny has done some incredible research into the construction of coherent form using sound waves. His work can be found by doing a simple web search for “Cymatics”

An interesting and very applicable aspect of holograms is that if a hologram is destroyed, each piece of the hologram contains the information necessary to reconstruct the entire hologram. Much like the Mandelbrot sets, the information inherent in the hologram exists “above” and “below.” If reality is holographic in nature, as David Bohm, Karl Pribram, and others suggest, this presents us with a wide range of options. “This” universe we inhabit could be made of the holographic interference patterns of a certain spectrum of energies. Could there not be other spectra, as well?

To better understand this, let’s use the example of a DSL Internet connection. The idea behind DSL is that one’s copper telephone lines can actually support a number of bandwidths of energy, simultaneously. On the lower end of the bandwidth spectrum, is one’s voice signal. Copper can also conduct higher frequencies of energy at the same time, that will not interfere with the lower frequencies. Thus, one can continue to use one’s telephone lines for voice communications as well as high-speed Internet service, without having to sacrifice one for the other.

To illustrate this another way, on the freeway, there are several lanes of traffic, moving at various speeds. Yet (if all goes well), these lanes of traffic will never intersect with each other. They are all contained within the same freeway, however. Just as cars can switch lanes, I would suggest that it may be possible to tap into holographic realities created by spectra of energy that are not necessarily native to our normal “lane” of travel. Perhaps it is no different from an electron jumping from one shell to another, as it orbits a nucleus.

Just as the copper telephone wire is able to contain multiple bandwidths of energy (or the freeway, multiple lanes of traffic), perhaps there is an over-arching “omniverse” able to house different operating levels of reality based on different spectra of energy. Each “level” would contain the holographic information reflecting the reality of the omniverse.  It may be possible that it is through this sort of model that archetypes are able to operate. These other “realities” may also be those that are accessible to us in dreams, after death, through shamanic voyaging, etc., and are perhaps consistent with models put forth by the neo-Platonists, Ibn ‘Arabi, Kabbalists, multiple-universe theorists in physics, etc. This too, however, is bet left discussed elsewhere and elsewhen.

Before we set the controls for the heart of the Black Sun, I would like to address two of the archetypes (the Sun and the Moon), and our traditional ways of engaging them. Oftentimes, the terms “solar” and “lunar” are used to describe types of consciousness (or awareness). This is a dicey area, in that a strong case could be made that these are not archetypes at all, but rather animistic projections onto celestial bodies, originating with our primitive ancestors. Yet these archetypes and their associated forms of consciousness are a useful illustration for our discussion of the Black Sun.

I also find that one must exercise extreme caution when assigning gender roles to these archetypes, and to the types of consciousness they represent. While it may be popular in Jung, alchemy, and elsewhere to equate solar/male and lunar/female, I believe that if there are such things as “solar consciousness” and “lunar consciousness”, they are far more mysterious and interesting than simply “masculine” and “feminine.” Janet McCrickard, in her book Eclipse of the Sun: An Investigation into Sun and Moon Myths (1990), has written a fascinating refutation of the universality of the solar-masculine/lunar-feminine assignations, surveying traditions from around the world, where these gender roles are reversed. Interestingly, during her research, she encountered resistance not just from male academia, but from feminist and goddess-oriented groups as well. I believe her work is important, however. As she states,

To accept that the female Sun is a valid theme in the diversity of human religious thought, instead of rejecting her as a mistake, heresy, or irrelevance, has important consequences…in simple terms, the Sun Goddess by her mere occurrence challenges the rigidity of our spiritual thinking, disrupting those safe old categories by which we set such store, demanding that we pay up on our claims to be plural and holistic. In facing up to her, we thus expand our conception of what it means to be female, or male – or human (p. xxi).

I bring this up, because I will be discussing the Black Sun in terms of eclipse imagery. The eclipse and juxtaposition of solar and lunar consciousness is an event far more interesting when viewed without gender-political baggage. While there may be a precedent within alchemy to use the masculine-solar/feminine-lunar framework, I believe we can, to borrow a phrase, “transcend and include” these correlations. McCrickard’s chapter “The True Feminine” is particularly eye opening on the origins and dangers of the masculine-solar/feminine-lunar model. What happens if we look at solar and lunar consciousness through another lens?

The definition of solar and lunar consciousness that resonates the most with me, is the one provided by Christopher Bache, in his book Dark Night, Early Dawn: Steps Toward a Deep Ecology of the Mind. It is his definition that I wish to embrace in my discussion of Sol Niger. Solar consciousness, per Bache, is the light of the daytime. It allows us to explore and understand the world around us, our immediate environment, and the external world. Lunar consciousness is the illuminated night, where we can see the true sky, and realize there are other worlds, other suns, and that we are not alone. There is mystery. If the sun invites us to explore the exterior world, the moon not only allows us to know there are other worlds “out there”, but “in here”, as well. Night brings sleep, and with it, dreams, and the ability to more directly experience the imaginal realms. As above, so below.


Bache, Christopher M. (2000). Dark Night, Early Dawn: Steps Toward a Deep Ecology of the Mind. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Edinger, Edward F. (1994). Anatomy of the Psyche: Alchemical Symbolism in Psychotherapy. Chicago: Open Court.

McCrickard, Janet. (1990). Eclipse of the Sun: An Investigation into Sun and Moon Myths. Glastonbury: Gothic Image Publications.

(to be continued)


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Jul 10 2013

Meditations on Sol Niger, part I

“…true philosophers make dying their profession and find it less alarming than others…” – Plato

sunA number of years ago, I found myself at the Albatross, a bar in Berkeley. A number of us had decided to enjoy a celebratory beer or three at the end of our classes for the quarter. One of my friends brought along her boyfriend, who was not a fellow student. With a “stranger” in our midst, conversation naturally shifted to what areas of Consciousness Studies and Dream Studies held each of our interests. After explaining my interest in survival of bodily death and Visitation Dreams, I was chided by the outsider in the group for focusing on “dark” things.

“If you focus on the darkness, you will never have abundance in your life.”

According to him, light was good, and beautiful. Darkness was bad, and to be avoided. The more I sat with this conversation, the more I became angered by it. To begin with, he and I seemed to have radically different definitions of “abundance.” He believed that I could have a house (or two), cars, money, and as many women as I could possibly want, simply by giving up the darkness, and “embracing the light.” Who knew it was that simple?

As for me, I’m not even sure that “abundance” (whatever that is), is the “goal.”

More importantly, however, I believe it is sometimes too easy to fall into the darkness=bad/light=good paradigm, and to avoid the things that make us uncomfortable.

I have been accused of being “dark” most of my life. Yet, if one knows me well, they will know that ultimately I am an optimist – a frustrated optimist.

It is perhaps natural that as I studied alchemy, I found myself gravitating towards the symbol of the Black Sun, or Sol Niger. As Stanton Marlan posits in the Introduction to his book The Black Sun: The Alchemy and Art of Darkness (2005),

The black sun is  a paradox. It is blacker than black, but it also shines with a dark luminescence that opens the way to some of the most numinous aspects of psychic life (p. 5).

James Hillman also addresses the hidden treasures of the darkness, in The Dream and The Underworld (1970).

It is not difficult to transpose psychology’s conceptual mythology to the mythology of the underworld, nor is it difficult to envision the relationship between dayworld and nightworld as the hero’s descent and our modern notions of the unconscious as reflections of Tartaros and Styx, Charon and Cerberus, Hades and Pluto. Pluto, especially is important to recognize in our euphemistic references to the unconscious as the giver of wholeness, a storehouse of abundant riches, a place not of fixation in torment, but a place, if propitiated rightly, that offers fertile plenty. Euphemism is a way of covering anxiety. In antiquity, Pluto (‘riches’) was said as a euphemistic name to cover the frightening depth of Hades. Today, the ‘creative’ unconscious euphemistically conceals the processes of destruction and death in the deeps of the soul (p. 20).

Death and destruction will be important alchemical processes when we look at the image of the Black Sun, and I will address them later. It would be easy to explore the darkness and confront Sol Niger strictly as a psychological phenomenon. But in keeping with the alchemical dictum, “as above, so below,” we are severely limiting our perception if we do. We can learn from the darkness and the Black Sun on every level we find it. By doing so, we can find a much larger and more complete understanding; one that will ultimately show that there is no need to fear the dark or what may be lurking in the shadows. Jung(1989) himself encourages us, advising us that “the darkness has its own peculiar intellect and its own logic, which should be taken very seriously” (p. 255).


Hillman, James. (1979). The Dream and the Underworld. New York: Harper Perennial.

Jung, Carl G. (1989). Mysterium Coniunctionis. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Marlan, Stanton. (2005). The Black Sun: The Alchemy and Art of Darkness. College Station: Texasa A&M University Press

(to be continued)


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